A Government plan to tackle sex trafficking has made progress in the House of Lords, but attempts to weaken the proposals are expected soon.
The Government wants to criminalise anyone paying for sex with a prostitute who is being exploited by someone else, whether or not he knows about her situation.
But Conservative frontbencher Baroness Hanham said the offence should only apply if the person buying sex knows or ought to know that the prostitute is being exploited.
She said she would introduce an amendment at Report Stage unless the Government backs down.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, a Liberal Democrat, had tabled a similar amendment which she has now withdrawn.
The Government hopes its proposal will help cut the demand for prostitution and so stem the tide of women and girls trafficked into the UK to be forced into the sex trade.
Peers debated the plans on Wednesday as part of the Policing and Crime Bill which is currently in Committee Stage.
The Bishop of Chester urged the House to back the Government’s proposals. He said: “There is a growth in prostitution and those who are engaged in it are now increasingly exploited in the most dreadful way.
“A lot of the prostitution that occurs in this country is in all but name rape. In those circumstances, I think that the Government are right to say that something has to be done—something which targets the worst examples and aims to achieve a culture shift.”
Lord Brett, a Labour Peer, defended the Government’s plan as “a campaign to persuade men to desist from exploiting women who are victims of trafficking or coercion”.
He said the new offence would be “an amber flag or a red flag, signalling to people to think long and hard about it”.
An estimate from 2008 suggested that up to 18,000 females, including girls as young as 14, have been trafficked into UK brothels to meet the rising demand for prostitutes.
The Christian Institute has welcomed the Government’s attempt to introduce the new offence.
The Institute’s Director, Colin Hart, said: “Thousands of girls are being trafficked into the UK every year to be forced into prostitution by people who know they can make money from them. This will continue until the demand for prostitutes is cut.
“We believe that the Government’s latest proposals will go some way towards turning the tide on trafficking by deterring people from purchasing sex.”
Statistics from the ‘Crime and Disorder associated with Prostitution Initiative’ show that 93 per cent of prostitutes were using non-prescribed drugs, including 88 per cent using heroin.
More than half of UK prostitutes have been raped or suffered indecent assault and three quarters have experienced physical violence.
Over half the prostitutes involved in one study said that they had feared for their lives at least once.
An international study published in the Journal of Trauma Practice found that 68 per cent of prostitutes met the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with symptoms as severe as victims of torture.
The same study shows that nine in ten prostitutes want to escape prostitution but feel unable to do so.